Environmental Working Group (EWG)

Environmentalism Recoded: From a Compliance Economy to Standards of Care

Environmental health

EWG’s unique and proven system of science-based market standards can empower citizen-consumers and companies to “clean” America’s food, consumer goods, tap water, and electric grid.

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Lead Organization

Environmental Working Group (EWG)

Washington, D.C., United States


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Project Summary

For 40 years a policy-centric approach made great strides in solving our worst environmental problems. But the immune system of regulated industries, manifested as campaign contributions and lobbying, has stalled progress for 20 years. Environmental legislation dies in Congress; regulations come out weak—if they come out at all. EWG’s unique and proven system of science-based market standards steers around this impasse, harnessing the power of online engagement and public demand for a transparent economy and nontoxic goods and services. Our approach has earned the trust of millions of people, making environmental health an intimately personal part of their daily lives. We have engaged hundreds of companies who understand that market imperatives, more than regulation, make environmental standards of care smart business. We’ve begun to “clean” multi-billion dollar markets for food, personal care and home cleaning. Community tap water and electricity are next. It’s time to scale.

Problem Statement

For decades, scientists have reached consensus on a wide range of environmental health problems that call for action by governments to solve, and governments are utterly unable to act. The problem is rooted in the response across major regulated industries—chemical, oil, food, consumer and so on—to the growing reach and associated costs of environmental law and regulation from the 1970s through the early 1990s. While partisan politics play a role, the paralysis in environmental policy goes much deeper than which party controls the White House or Congress. The impacts affect all Americans. But advances in environmental health sciences tell us that some people are more vulnerable than others: people with a genetic susceptibility to environmental pollution or contaminants; developing babies, infants and children; disadvantaged communities that bear disproportionate burdens of localized environmental pollution; the elderly; people with compromised immune systems. We believe it is time to supplement regulatory approaches by harnessing the power of the informed, connected citizen-consumer. In sector after sector of the economy, advances in technology, the dynamics of online commerce, the connected public’s interest in a transparent economy and cleaner goods and services, have combined to dramatically reshape environmental possibilities. In food, consumer goods, clean water and energy, we already have elements of an economic future in which what we fight for as environmentalists is as important as what we fight against. We have the tools to replace an economy based on environmental compliance to one based on standards of care.

Solution Overview

The fastest route to improving environmental health protection is not tough new laws or regulations. Almost no one believes the government is capable of that, at least for now. No, the fastest, deepest route consists of actions individuals can take that will dramatically and immediately reduce their exposures to toxic chemicals and pollution. For many exposures, affordable, nontoxic options are readily available. EWG scientists find them. People—tens of millions of them every year now, for a decade—have found out about EWG from our constant media coverage or by searching online, because we define environmental health in terms of their everyday lives. The environment is how they live and what they buy, day in and day out. The drugstore, the grocery store, that cabinet under the sink where you keep your household cleaners, these are the chemical wilderness areas of modern life. And people trust EWG science as their trusted wilderness guide. EWG’s authority derives from our independent health standards and market certification programs. In markets for personal care, cleaning and fresh produce, EWG is already a de facto regulator.Because for many consumer goods and services even small shifts in purchasing patterns, sometimes in the range of a few percentage points, can move an entire market towards nontoxic alternatives as companies chase market share. Boycotts are not necessary. Buy cuts will do.We propose to dramatically scale these dynamics to eliminate environmental exposures of concern related to food, consumer goods, drinking water and home energy—without government regulation.

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Project Funders

  • JPB Foundation 2016 - 2020
  • Popplestone Foundation 2005 - 2026
  • Yellow Chair Foundation 2019

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